The inspiration for this essay comes from a conversation with a fellow anarcho-capitalist where the question was posed: How to engage people in a world that seems uninterested in political reform or sound ‘ideological’ public policy. Answering the question was easy for me because I learned from one of the few people to make copious amounts of money from philosophy, whilst concurrently offering a comprehensive theory of values. Not perfect, but nevertheless a system to work from.
Lesson 1: Keeping one’s message grounded
Making money from selling books is a great measure of people’s personal engagement; more so when you attract so much vitriol from the Left. The teacher was of course Ayn Rand. Whether you love or hate her – she has conspired to ‘make you read her books’. That is the start of any education – engagement. It was fiction, but it was grounded in experience. Of course it was never going to be real enough for leftists, and a great many individualists are destined to struggle with it. She could have done better. We all can.
Lesson 2: Pursue low hanging fruit
There are libertarians who will attempt to sell their ideas to the most ardent protagonists. They are destined to spend a lifetime doing so, and they will inevitably fail. In sales, there is 3 types of people (i) Idealists motivated by the idea. They are easy converts. (ii) Pragmatists wanting results, and finally (iii) Skeptics, who are completely unmovable in spite of their inherent contradictions.
Libertarians need to acknowledge that (i) They might not really be a libertarian, but simply a ‘conservative for small government’, or they might have retain contradictions, or that they are surrounded by said people. Some are more willing than others to struggle with conflicts. Some are more ambitious than others in doing so. The message then is – what organisational structure is destined to achieve, not the political objectives which are founded in ambiguity, but mental clarity. The lesson is then to focus upon those open to outside influence. That is (i) the young and (ii) existing liberals, and (iii) apolitical people with ‘logic’ based professions, etc.
Young minds are open/active, curious, and ultimately less distorted by corruption or ‘entrenched’ errors in thinking. If we make an impact on youths, then they are dealing with the world on our terms, before they become beholden to the status quo, or otherwise defined by their ‘jading’ experience, or otherwise cynical about human nature.
The Left are fond of depicting Rand as a cult leader. It is perverse how the Left always smears people with their own shortcomings. Rand appealed and admired the best qualities in people. It is the Left that appeals to people’s fears, ambiguity, or base greed. Consider that the left attempts to ‘redistribute’ (aka ‘steal’) the wealth of the 30%. It does mount a legal campaign to restore stolen wealth to those wronged; nor does it seek to correct the injustices inherent in the current political system. Leftists like the conservatives are quite happy preserving the current political system to support their illegitimate values. As a point of contrast, I would define the ‘aspiring right’ as evaders of their own moral ambiguity. They self-righteously preach morality based on results. The neo-conservatives do so from a sense of self-hate; however most conservatives are simply less tragic, and only riled by intimidating ‘thieving’ Leftists.
Lesson 3: Identification is key
Whatever one or other’s ideology, it is critical to know the distinction. There is within the libertarian community a satisfaction to seek ‘harmonious’ collaboration on practical ‘political objectives’, whilst failing to reconcile underlying philosophical differences. This is ultimate a recipe for (i) the failure of libertarian politics to evolve, (ii) a basis upon which the libertarian movement can to be discredited, rather than a faction of it, and (iii) a propensity for libertarianism to sink into ‘gutter’ of extortion politics like the other political parties. The distinction of the libertarian party needs to be that it is the ‘party of principle’. Of course the other parties can allude to an ‘ideology’, however they cannot substantiate it. The evidence is not on their side. In fact, this is one reason why they go to great efforts to legitimate the ‘procedural fairness’ of their ‘system’; so that they might avoid those difficult ‘big picture’ moral questions like: ‘Isn’t voting a form of legalized extortion? Isn’t truth rational rather than popular? Shouldn’t courts function on the basis of causation rather than correlation?’
Lesson 4: Avoid condemnation. Life demands judgement; that is, some estimate of the significance of a thing or person (moral agent) in your life. It’s natural and proper; however it also demands strategic imperatives to optimize one’s engagement. If one is going to take it upon oneself to make a difference to the political values of one’s society, then we require moral guidance. Here is some positive direction:
- Passive judgement: The absence of personal condemnation. It’s one thing to morally judge one’s situation; however judging others demands a higher standard for a single reason – We will never know the entirety of another’s context. The experiences and values that have shaped their life. This demands that we inquire a great deal before we judge, or simply give people personal anecdotes or facts, so that we can convey a respect for ‘objective’ reality, whilst alluding to the utility of that ‘objective information’ in their ‘independent context’. Condemnation, or the fear of it, prompts people to disengage. Avoiding pre-emptive judgement is a hard habit to break for some people. A lack of empathy is not a reason not to judge; it demands a responsibility to be fair-minded with it. Adverse consequences are the ultimate arbiter.
- Concrete: The ‘realness’ of personal experience is less likely to be rejected as abstract ‘fantasy’. Inexplicable experience demands reconciliation; floating ideas raises challenges and apprehensions about the utility of said information.
- Relevance is an appealing basis upon which to engage people. If you can appeal to their values, or draw upon their experience. It is too easy to put down a book, but it’s harder to ignore advice pertaining to one’s personal experience (if not construed as harsh judgement).
- Purpose: The content of one’s engagement should serve a concrete purpose. There is often no compelling value in ‘fiction’, however I have found it can be a compelling motivation for people; particularly people with practical or financial aspirations. This is why I chose to start my writing career with books on financial issues. i.e. Buying foreclosed property in Japan.
Lesson 5: Model success
Different people measure success in different ways. The propensity to measure it in terms of money is losing its credibility in a corrupted market place. We are increasingly appreciating people’s integrity, their confidence, their sense of life, their generosity, their wisdom, their creativity and their optimism. We are still ambivalent about when people are genuinely so, or putting on errs. Many people still don’t trust their judgement, so they look for evidence of ‘success’ in concrete evidence like Mercedes cars, high fashion, or adverse factors like evidence of ‘old money’ or corruption. Some won’t care to make a distinction if they are only interested in financial support, as long as the counterparty serves as an ‘enabler’ to a better life. Beggars cannot be choosers? Such a statement speaks to people’s tragic view of life.
In other respects, we know this to be the case. Business people will tell you that they ‘sell themselves’ or their business interests to people when others least expect it, and subtly so. They are selling themselves at church, whilst attending their children’s sporting events, or on holidays. You often don’t even need to open your mouth. People buy success, and you’d be surprised how they measure success. I was once offered a job on a flight from Bangkok to Mumbai simply ‘being myself’. My subtle behaviour included:
- Diligence: I wasn’t wasting a moment. I was driven. Someone valued my time and demonstrating a lot of energy. I was working when others would be relaxing.
- Purpose: I was ‘attacking’ the task I was performing; which was basically pulling paper cuttings out of a number of newspapers I had gathered.
- Importance: I evoked a sense of importance because I was flying business class.
- Age: I was only 25yo. It would be fair to say that there were not many working people at age 25yo in the late 1980s.
I wondered why this person was interested in me because I had no background in mechanical engineering. On reflection, I knew what inspired him to ask. It is not just me. Many people invite such inspiration. It was subtle queues that resonated with ideas that he supported. From another perspective, my libertarianism is destined to push people away.
In the end I never went for the job.
When I engage people, I attempt to be provocative. There are two ways that I naturally do that:
- The big idea that goes over their head. It’s too abstract. This only works with people who are philosophically ‘on your side’. i.e. Their intellectual depth matches yours; otherwise you become a source of apprehension. If however they are invested, their response can be an invitation to develop the issue in a more concrete fashion. It works in so far you have identified an abstract contention; then you are offering the supportive evidence and arguments to justify it.
- The provocative idea where your point elicits a response. i.e. Allows a person to criticize you. If you are able to accept their criticism, and constructively respond to it, it is harder for them to condemn you.
The greater problem is simply people not wanting to engage. I find most libertarians simply aren’t willing to do so. On Facebook, I’m often posting material or arguments that ought to engage, but it often doesn’t. When people are prepared to engage, we are able to have some really informative discussions.
Lesson 6: Be strategic
One cannot simply seek to infuse people with a concrete message and fail to see the ‘conceptual’ or strategic ramifications of one’s ideas on the external world. We can look for empirical results, but we ultimately need to anticipate our results, otherwise one pays an opportunity cost, a financial cost, and ultimate ‘taxes’ the motivation of one’s support base, as well as oneself, with some risk of cynicism. Evolution waited for a new genetic mutation for change; today we wait for an infusion of idealism from the next generation. So keep breeding. We are tired; our children will not be so.
The ultimate challenge
The ultimate prospect of political evolution will not come from the hopes of the subjugated; it will come from the good grace of the gatekeepers. Before the gatekeepers can feel comfortable for them to feel generous enough to give us real freedom, we have to be empathetic enough to allow them to hang on to the wealth that they think they have earned. At the end of the day, this should be an ‘easy sale’ because the betterment of the underclass lies in ‘doing’ rather than ‘seizing’. The value proposition in life is not ‘having’ – at least not things, but ‘creating’ those things, and possessing the efficacy that allows oneself to create those things. The reason why many privileged people never really seem to possess the confidence befitting their wealth is because subconsciously they know that their low self-esteem derives from the fact that they never earned their privilege on fair terms. The problem is ultimately contending with mindless liberals who feel compelled to incite envy in the working class, such that they aspire for more of others wealth. The clearest evidence of this is their penchant for ‘redistributive’ rather than common law justice. The common law system does not defy their values; they defy justice. Social justice is merely an attempt to legitimatize extortion. It is a legalized gang bang.